My advice – if you are going to Europe anytime soon – don’t leave home with a Bank of America card in your wallet.
In the spirit of openness and full disclosure I must say that I own stock in Bank of America – it is in the toilette but I still own it. That said, I do not use any Bank of America products – and based on these two harrowing tales, I’m glad I don’t. All the Bank of America fees that I talk about – and I will really bitch about them – can be checked at https://www.bankofamerica.com/deposits/resources/personal-schedule-fees.go
Tale 1: Maryellen Mistakingly Trusts Local Bank of America Personnel.
Before she crossed the Atlantic and started her exploration of Rome and Pontelandolfo, my cousin did everything right. She went to her local Bank of America branch and explained she was going to Italy for two weeks. She asked what she needed to take with her to easily access her cash. We had talked about this and I told her to make sure she asked about all the fees her bank might charge. After her chat, she called me all excited – Bank of America has a list of banks in Europe and with her brand new ATM card she wouldn’t get hit with the $5 transaction fee! Weeooo.
The non-Bank of America ATM fees do not apply at some ATMs located outside the United States. Call us before you travel internationally for current information about banks participating in the program. She did.
The BoA branch staff also convinced her to get a super duper new Travel Rewards credit card. They swore she could use it everywhere. It had no foreign transaction fee and she could use it at an ATM machine – however it cost an arm and two legs – ATM, Over-the-Counter, Same-Day Online and Cash Equivalent Cash Advances: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater. Oh yeah – pay it back right away because the interest on a cash advance is 24.99%. Sheeeeet mon!
OK, OK – you want me to tell her story – here it is – Maryellen promptly discovered that she could not use her ATM card at the Bancomat machine in Pontelandolfo, or the one in Morcone or the one freaking anywhere!!!! She did have that lovely list of participating banks and none of them were within days of where we live in Italy. So now she has no Euro and no access to her account. H’mm, there must be another way – she’ll use her Travel Rewards Card and pay the usurious 5% and get a bunch of Euro. What? That card doesn’t work here either?????? We called Bank of America – frankly, I grabbed the phone and put on my advocate voice. The officious twit said – “oh you’re not in Rome or a major city”? – excuse me, since when did banks only consider the tourist meccas and not the towns of us common folk? She also explained that many Bancomats only worked with debit cards – not ATM cards. What? The less than informed or inadequately trained – I want to say to stupid to live but Jack says this is rude – so I will not say it – person in the Hillsborough Branch of Bank of America specifically signed my cousin up for an ATM card. ERRRRRGGGGGGG. What is the poor woman to do? She borrowed the money from her son – see his debit card worked. Bottom line – I hope she ditches BoA.
I know what you are thinking – “why the hell didn’t she just use her credit card?” This is a very small town in Southern Italy – hardly anyone takes a credit card!!!! It isn’t Princeton where a kid can flip out a debit card for a $3 coffee. A cappuccino here costs .90 and not one of the four bars take credit/debit cards. The only place in town that takes credit cards is the fabulous Landulphi – a great pub-restaurant. Actually, lots of people don’t have or ever use credit cards. It is a cash economy. Make sure you know where you are going and if credit cards are widely accepted.
Tale 2: Alanna Gets Hit with 3%
True, Alanna’s tale is not as horrific as Maryellen’s but damn – who needs to pay 3% plus the $5 foreign ATM fee just to get Euro? Alanna showed up at my door and asked where the Bancomat was. Just for the hell of it I asked her who her bank was – when she said the evil Bank of America I fainted. She knew what it would cost her for money – that was a good thing. The bad thing was she didn’t switch banks before she left. I told her to call and see if she could get the fee waived – she just spent two weeks working on a house through Habitat for Humanity in Portugal and Bank of America ought to commend her for that. We’ll see if that pitch works – if not my Paypal account will be richer and I’ll gather Euro for her.
I just checked my TD Bank statement – $3 to use a foreign ATM machine. There is no percentage on top and no Euro conversion fee. Was it always smooth sailing? No, I always call and say “this is where I’ll be for the next 6 months.” Once, the computer ate the advisory or the person entering the information fell asleep at the keyboard. I’ve just called from where-ever I was and got instant access.
The Debit card that I cannot get to work anywhere in Italy is the one I have attached to my brokerage account at RBCDainRoucher. I tried at a variety of Bancomats last year, called RBC and just plain gave up.
The bottom line? Check, double check and re-check the fees and usability of your debit card. Also really take a peek at your credit cards – make sure they do not charge a foreign transaction fee. I use Capital One because they do not and I get travel miles. We never used our American Express Card because they did – as of this summer they are changing their policy.
Also understand the economic reality of where you are going. We hate tourist crammed places and know that small villages have been bartering and using cash for ages – credit cards? Leave home without them.
Be prepared and have a great trip.